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Richard Klass Headshot

An Insult to Veterans

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In a July 24, 2012 editorial on the speeches by President Obama and Gov. Romney to the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) national convention, the New York Times commented:

"This was a chance for Mitt Romney to show that he could be a better international leader than President Obama, who has already proved himself in that field. He fell far short."

The Times was too kind. The misrepresentations and outright untruths presented by Gov. Romney were nothing less than an insult to the intelligence of his audience and all veterans. Gov. Romney' address presents a target rich environment, but several stand out.

· He claims that the president has "diminished American leadership." He ignores the coalition President Obama put together for Libya, including not only NATO nations but also the Arab League. And he ignores the coalition of NATO, Japan and even Russia and China that has imposed unprecedented sanctions on Iran. All independent polls show America's standing in the world has risen sharply under President Obama's leadership.

· He faults the president for the sudden "abandonment of our friends in Poland and the Czech Republic" by a "unilateral concession to the Russian government" on missile defense. In fact, missile defense components are already in these countries because the Obama administration redesigned the system, tailored it to the threat and thus was able to deploy it years earlier than the previous plan. And the Russians are at least as angry at these deployments as with that earlier plan.

· He contends that "strategy" is not driving the presidents defense budget. He appears unaware of the new national strategy promulgated by the Obama administration detailing a "pivot" to the Pacific to face future national security challenges, a strategy with a budget supported by the entire civilian and military leadership. Indeed, it is Romney whose defense spending plans are devoid of strategy. He proposes devoting at least four percent of gross domestic product (GDP) to defense regardless of threat, strategy or budget circumstance, a figure reminiscent of the Cold War. And he has no plan to pay for this additional $2 trillion in spending -- and debt -- over the next ten years.

· Despite the Governor's claims, the president's budget does not have "massive cuts" and there are no "wholesale reductions in the nation's military capability." Under the president's budget, U.S. defense spending will continue to grow, albeit at a slower rate, and America will continue to account for approximately 45 percent of global defense spending. He appears not to know that the massive cuts he fears are due to the 2011 Budget and Control Act, a result of Congressional action in general and the particular refusal of the GOP to consider any revenue increases to address the budget deficit

· He asserts that the sequester cuts would weaken the Veterans Administration and that he would not let that happen. But President Obama has already ensured that the sequester, if it comes to pass, will not affect the VA. Gov. Romney did not mention his flirtation with replacing the VA with vouchers, a move that would decimate the VA's world class hospitals and research into veteran injuries such as loss of sight or limbs, Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) and Post Traumatic Stress. He also seems to have ignored the fact that the GOP budget of Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), that he supports, would cut $11 billion from next year's VA budget. And of course, he would not give the Obama Administration credit for the largest increases in the VA budget in 30 years and for the expansion of care for women, mental health services and ending the shame of veterans' homelessness

Perhaps most cynical of all was Gov. Romney's statement that he was about to start an overseas trip and "Since I wouldn't venture into a foreign country to question American foreign policy," he was making his case to the VFW. But surely he knew that his speech would be in the tabloids the next morning when he arrived in London and that his specific references to Israel and Poland would be reported in those two other stops on the trip.

Two of the most important characteristics for leadership, and certainly for the position of Commander in Chief, are straight talk and care for your subordinates. Gov. Romney's VFW speech failed the first of these. His time at Bain Capital, where he took care of his wealthy investors regardless of what harm might befall the workers, failed the second.